In Maggie Bryan’s column “Cliff-Hanger,” she reviews outdoor films and explores the power of adventure as a catalyst to conversations over modern issues.
On the night of Saturday, Nov. 12, skiers, snowboarders and film buffs gathered in Burlington, Vt. for the sold-out screenings of two new ski films: “The Approach 2” and “Nexus.” The event was sponsored by Skida, an accessory brand founded by Middlebury alumna Corinne Prevot ’13, and was hosted at Outdoor Gear Exchange, an outdoor store on Burlington’s Church Street. Both films highlighted the stories of historically marginalized groups in the outdoor industry, who have risen above stereotypes and barriers to pursue what they love. Each story told in “The Approach 2” and “Nexus” emphasized a fierce sense of joy in spite of hardship. Despite confronting heavy topics, the screening left audience members feeling jubilant.
“The Approach 2,” directed and produced by University of Vermont graduate Anne Cleary, is the sequel to “The Approach” (2021), which follows a group of people of color, adaptive athletes and women skiers and riders as they push societal limits and uplift their communities. “The Approach 2” opens with a compilation of shots of adaptive athlete Vasu Sojitra speeding down a mountain using a three-track ski system, designed for amputee athletes, which involves one full ski and two handheld outriggers. The shots are strikingly intense as they combine scenic beauty and speed with unconventional ski technology. The film includes several similarly astounding shots of the group of diverse athletes heli-skiing in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska. Drone footage captures the vastness of snow-drenched mountains, amongst which the individual skiers and their tracks are the only specks of color.
After “The Approach 2,” Prevot led an audience Q&A with Cleary and cast members Sojitra and Sophia Rouches, who were in attendance at the screening. When asked about their experience filming, the panelists reflected on their increased confidence, despite facing some of the same prejudices time and time again. For example, when the group was boarding a helicopter to heli-ski, one of the helicopter employees openly doubted Sojitra’s competence. “The guy looked at Vasu and gave him an up and down and was like, are you going to be… okay? And he was like, ‘Yeah, any other questions?’” Cleary recalled.
Reflecting a similar impact of lack of visibility, Rouches remembered the anxiety she felt before attempting a flip off of the Mount Baker road gap in Washington, knowing that only a couple of women had accomplished the feat. Although it’s important for all audiences to hear these stories, it’s clear that the group’s efforts are especially targeted towards communities that, “don’t look like maybe, many of the people in this room,” Sojitra pointed out. The solution Sojitra proposes is continuing to create more seats at the table. “Just keep going and just attract more companies, more people, do a lot more screenings and just keep trying to put our message out there,” he said.
Following the Q&A was “Nexus,” a film that follows multiple groups of women skiers as they reflect on the role skiing has played in their families and relationships. Sasha Dingle and Krystin Norman are the daughters of sisters who emigrated from Vietnam in the 1970s and unexpectedly fell in love with skiing. Today, familial love for the sport is what keeps Dingle and Norman close. Like “The Approach 2.” “Nexus” draws a profound balance between introspection and nail-biting action shots. One highlight is a drone shot of Veronica Paulsen backflipping off of Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one of the steepest runs in North America. Paulsen was the first woman to complete the achievement and was crowned “Queen of Corbet’s” in 2020. Intense moments like these, coupled with difficult conversations about representation from Dingle and Norman, are interwoven with interviews with Margo Krisjansons and Jane Gallie, two Jackson Hole, Wyo. locals and employees of Exum Mountain Guides. Krisjansons and Gallie, both well into their sixties, reflect on their journeys through the gender biases of the outdoor industry, while throwing in lighthearted jokes along the way.
Neither film shies away from the goofy moments shared by their crews or neglects to show the crashes and falls of cast members. Unlike other outdoor films, when an athlete didn’t complete a run flawlessly or didn’t land a jump as planned, the tone remained triumphant. This theme is perfectly exemplified in “Nexus” when athlete and artist Brooklyn Bell, who appeared in both films, falls what appears to be dozens of yards down a steep exposed grade. The event perfectly frames the scene as one of frustration and regret, yet when Bell meets her friend Michelle Parker at the end of the line, covered in snow, she seems as excited as ever to keep going. Later in the film, Bell expresses that for her, joy is the ultimate form of resistance. The theme is one that was strong throughout the films and amongst audience members, who seemed joyful to be celebrating another season of skiing, while simultaneously striving to improve the community they love.